Domestic Violence: A Former 9-1-1 Operator Perspective

I am a former Montgomery County, MD 9-1-1 operator (2001-2011).  Over those years, I’ve received thousands of calls classified as domestic violence (DOMV) which is defined as household members using force with their hands or weapons against each other causing bodily harm and/or imminent danger to life.  Over those many calls, three in particular stand out in my memory:  1) first DOMV call I erroneously classified as a rookie; 2) a mother stabs her adult son who was beating his child’s mother; 3) DOMV between an elderly couple that had been married seventy-five years.  I can remember like it was yesterday, the very first screaming and hollering, throwing and slamming, cursing and crying live call I received (along with my trainer) on the midnight shift.  The couple were in a hotel room and began to argue over money and drugs.  My adrenaline rushed because of the banter, and I immediately sent the call code 3 (lights and sirens response) and remained on the line with the caller.  My trainer, much wiser and experienced of course, allowed me to ask the necessary questions and updated the call to slow down police response because the parties were separated.  The situation quieted down and it turned out there was no throwing of anything, and the slamming was a bathroom door.  All of the yelling was by the female caller who was furious that her boyfriend took some money.  Meanwhile, he was quiet in the background.  I learned a major lesson from this call, the difference between actual violence and a heated dispute.  That one call transformed the way I viewed domestic violence from a public point of view, to a law enforcement point of view.  There is a difference between the two, which I will elaborate later.  The second call I remember is a mother stabbing her 20-something year old son whom she caught beating his girlfriend in her home.  The woman stabbed her son while she was on the phone with me, consequently she was charged with aggravated assault.  However, during the call, the woman expressed that her son picked up the violent cycle from his father, whom she left years ago, and she was not going to allow that type of behavior under her roof.  The last and most heartbreaking call was from an eighty-nine year old woman who barricaded herself in the bedroom from her agitated ninety-two year old husband who suffered from dementia and Alzheimers.  I could hear the banging and thumping of the furniture blocking the door to prevent his entry.  The overall call volume was high for the district at the time, and the caller was terrified.  I remained on the phone with her as she told me the hell she’d endured for the previous five years:  suffered blackened eyes, him choking her, pushing her down causing bruising and injuries of her limbs, hips, and back, all of which she reported to her physician but not to the police.  She pleaded with me that everyone believed him because of his age and frail stature, but she was in serious fear for her life and he was no longer the man she knew and loved for seventy-five years of marriage.  Children and grandchildren did not live nearby, and this issue was something “you just don’t tell the neighbors because we are not those kind of people.”  Unfortunately, the caller believed domestic violence to pertain to only certain races and economic backgrounds.  She never grasped that she was a victim.  In the end, the police responded, got the husband to calm down, and they noted that the caller did not want to press charges.  Of course she didn’t want to send her husband of seventy-five years to jail, but she needed some kind of help.  I’m sure the officers made the proper referrals, and as with 99.9% of my calls in my tenure, I do not know how the story ended.

I can only speak for myself and my perspectives, which happen to include both the public and law enforcement views.  As a citizen, the sounds of screaming and shouting are obviously a dispute, but does not necessarily mean violence, although situations can quickly become violent, and that’s what causes the hysteria.  As a 9-1-1 operator, I could not respond to what it can become, but what is actually taking place.  For example, a domestic call can start out with just yelling and quickly escalate to violence, we adjust the call priority expediently.  However, public opinion would say the call should’ve been code 3 in the first place.  That takes me back to my first call as a rookie.  I classified the call as if I were still a citizen, overhearing the debacle.  Because of course, we all as people want safety in our surroundings, and we adjust in flight or fight response accordingly.  However, we are people bound by laws that govern for both victim and/or suspect in all matters.  Not all domestic violence situations are equal, and not all of them are men battering women.  It can go the other way around as well.  Women can also be agitators and aggressive.  The issues of domestic violence are extremely layered in complexity because most of the parties have a lifetime relationship.  Also in my experience, the victim that doesn’t do a lot of screaming, nor react violently, makes excuses to keep up good appearances, and covers up injuries are true hostages of domestic violence.  They rarely call 9-1-1 because they don’t want their neighbors to see the police cruiser parked in front of their house.  True victims usually keep the pain buried deep within silence because they don’t want to anger their abuser causing the cycle of violence and intimidation to be repetitive.

Since domestic violence has been a hot button topic with the NFL recently, I will express my opinions of the NFL, Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson.  For the NFL:  firing players will only make the home life more hostile for victims.  A support group for NFL families should be established as a safe haven for victims of domestic assault and violence as well as anger and aggression courses for players themselves.  Taking away a man’s capability to care for his family feeds the angry monster.  For Mrs. Ray Rice:  if he’s willing to knock you unconscious in public, he’ll kill you in private.  Get help, long and enduring help for both of you and whomever else in your household.  For Adrian Peterson:  I don’t disagree with spanking your child, but there is a line between spanking and abuse.   You wouldn’t want your son to be a victim of police brutality, so don’t make him a victim of parent brutality.  Discipline can be achieved without leaving a scar or mark.

In general, the outcry for the end of domestic violence is noble, but it must go further than ad campaigns, social media rants, and other words into the air.  It took time for domestic violence to build and cycle.  It will take time for it to heal and die.